The Letter 'D': Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player

By Orly Ravid

Dynamo Player is one of the many DIY options we've looked at with close interest over the past year, (See Felicia Ptolemy's Review HERE and Rob Millis' Introduction to the Dynamo Player HERE. Is 2012 the year that it takes off for the indie and artist direct communities? It may very well be, and if so, we can have Orly Ravid of the Film Collaborative to thank once again. Today, she sits down with Dynamo's founder and discusses further evidence of it's success and some of the do's and don'ts of the platform.

The Letter “D”

D: Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player.

I got educated more all about how it works, with owner Rob Millis who I finally met in person at IDFA in Amsterdam. A fine gentleman indeed.

I usually recommend a filmmaker work with at least two DIY options to give customers a choice and just to not have all one’s eggs in one proverb.

Rob explained why Dynamo serves its filmmakers well. He noted its “designed with presentation and high quality” and that the “filmmaker's brand is in front.” It’s not just about the Dynamo brand.

Dynamo can handle any of the popular video standards and offers viewers up to 1080HD quality, a clean crisp presentation and as many extras as one can pack in. Hence it’s a good alternative to DVD, but with the instant gratification of an online rental.

A filmmaker once remarked that the issue with DIY is the “TRUST FACTOR”:

People don’t trust too many places with their credit cards and feel safer with big companies that have built a solid reputation. Well at Dynamo, and some other DIY services, the payment method is secure. Rob Millis explains:

“The key is payment process and protecting information”. Dynamo does not handle any payment information directly. They rely only on PAYPAL and AMAZON. Dynamo does not receive any of that confidential information so as not to risk anything going wrong. They just confirm that one is approved rather than handling payment info.

What about GENRE?

What kind does Dynamo work with and which ones do well with the service:

Most of their success is with DOCUMENTARIES.

“They have the highest value and there are a lot of reasons for that,” noted Millis.

“Entertainment for its own sake is competitive and as soon as it’s online one is competing with mainstream studio product. DOCS have a hook for those interested in the subject matter and hence people are willing to pay for it”.

“Dramas are harder to sell. The marketing for them needs to be more powerful than that for docs. Docs are also EVERGREEN. Dramas die off as soon as the marketing stops and are very competitive. There are hundreds of love stories but only one or a couple docs or at most a few about any given specific topic”. Millis concluded “One can sustain sales for a doc”. However Dynamo still accepts all kinds of films.

In fact the first-ever film rented on Facebook was a Zombie film (“Stag Night of the Dead”) hosted by Dynamo that played on the page for $1.99 and then dropped to $0.99 as a special sale.

DYNAMO DIY RULES | DO’s & DON'TS:

“The most obvious rule is to be in touch with your audience, especially on Twitter & Facebook”. Millis elaborated that in a more vague sense it’s best to put oneself in a viewer's shoes. “Think of them as consumers… Recognize that people have a million options. Film needs to be well-presented and easy to consume, make it easy and possible for them to choose your film instead of all their other options”. I also note this to filmmakers about theatrical releases and suggest they remember how many choices people have for how to spend their time and money.

Millis exclaimed the “BIGGEST MISTAKE FILMMAKERS make is believing that their film is beautiful enough to compel people to watch it just because the trailer reflects that to some extent.” A poorly designed website will not do! "Think about it as a product that is being sold and that you are competing for really valuable time when your audience has a million other really good options available".

$$$ TALK:

Right now iTunes current releases are $6.99 RENTAL for 2 days New Releases for OLDER TITLES it goes down as low to $1.99 or $2.99. Millis thinks iTunes is pricing things correctly. The Dynamo mean average sale price for all sales is approximately $4.00, including shorts and music videos, that amount to approximately 1% of all sales are below $1.99.

Millis told an anecdote that taught the moral of not making content seem too cheap. There’s so much for free online and people judge what is priced like a discount bin, hence the $0.99 rule, which is, most of the time, $0.99 makes your film look cheap!

PRICE RANGES:

$9.99 seems at the top of what works and sells well. Dramas do well $1.99 - $4.99 (“they see a strong drop off on either side of that,” Millis noted). Documentaries can be priced higher – he sees solid sales all the way up to $9.99The best range is $2.99 - $6.99 for most films, except for big films or those with a serious marketing team behind them.

Of course it’s always hard to predict what will work or not. For long tail, mid tail, smaller filmmakers the difference between sales of $5.00 and sales of $10,000 in a month is based on the work done with the audience and a good looking player.

Great films with A-list talent sit idle all over the internet because nobody knows they exist, while independent titles that strike a chord with the audience can catch on fire overnight with just a little bit of communication and an appealing web page.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

The timing varies, as one would expect because strategies and distribution needs vary. People sometimes do a first release with Dynamo and then stop to do theatrical and DVD and then start again, or others do it later on in the process and get on Dynamo only at the tail end of the sales.

A film that has been heavily pirated can still do good business because the film looks good this way and one can add compelling extra features. One can read about an example of this: UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US (see her Guest Post on Ted Hope's blog.

What’s the MOST $$$ made for any one DIY film on Dynamo Player?

This information is regarding Independents, DIY only:

$20,000 per film MAX if it’s an independent and with small marketing team. It won’t be bigger unless you have serious marketing experience. But Rob Millis encourages: “don't give up even if you have no traction in beginning, you just may have not hit critical mass yet”.

“I can tell you that sales typically taper off slowly for documentaries, continuing at a rate of perhaps 10-20% of the original month. If a doc did $10,000 in online rentals its first month, with some dedicated online promotion, then you might expect sales of $1,000-$2,000 per month several months later.

Dramatic features are a different animal, and you can expect major sales drops after promotion stops. A lot of residual interest depends on star power and search results, but dramas get stale faster.

Regarding dollar values, I can’t really give a solid estimate in any way that wouldn’t be misleading. No matter what number I give, every filmmaker then expects to reach that number. My biggest hesitation is attributing an estimate to Dynamo specifically, which always makes people really excited or really disappointed about Dynamo. In reality, it’s about the marketplace, and the online rental market can certainly support revenues of 7-figures for independent films. There really is no limit, practically speaking.

For instance, Louis C.K. just produced his own comedy special and did over a $1mm in sales using PayPal and direct downloads in about a week. He’s a well-known comedian, but this was a mid-budget shoot completely financed and marketed by Louis, totally independent. I certainly think his sales numbers would be at least as good if he had used Dynamo, but the success or failure would still lie mostly with his ability to convert the audience.

Beyond that we’re talking about differences of probably 10-50% between different platforms, depending on the customer experience.”

Dynamo is proud to note that its sales are growing overall, significantly. To find out more about Dynamo email info@dynamoplayer.com or visit DynamoPlayer.com to see an introductory video and sign up.

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema. Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.